FFWDing to the Best Part: “One,” U2 featuring Mary J. Blige (2005)

I’m no singer-songwriter, but I imagine the phenomenon of hearing another bring your song to life is both a blessing and a curse. To have your own words interpreted by a voice different than your own stands a compliment to your work and breathes new life into your words and score.

Then again.  What if this “new voice” is better (or at least dramatically different) than your own?  And the fresh version is heralded (by some) as a better  interpretation?

In 2005 — perhaps rather organically — Mary J. Blige joined U2 on stage for a rendition of their haunting, tension-filled ballad “One,” and the results were so well-received that a studio session ensued.  And I have a sneaking suspicion Bono regrets this every beautiful day of his charmed life. Because while the U2/Mary version isn’t as raw as the original, it arguably evokes more passion.

Best part? At 2:40, in the midst of a powerful crescendo, Mary power-vocals out the biting lyric, “Well, we hurt each other then we do it again.”  Indefatigable, she continues to effortlessly dominate the words we’ve all known by heart for two-plus decades: temple, higher law, enter, crawl, etc. etc.  But everything old is new again. And this time … with (more) feeling.

Right around 3:10, you can lit’rally hear Bono’s soul drift from his body a little bit.  “One love,” he chirps in his new role as backing vocalist, rendered virtually impotent by the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. Even Larry Mullen Jr. is bemused.


One thought on “FFWDing to the Best Part: “One,” U2 featuring Mary J. Blige (2005)

  1. U2 is happy to play second fiddle to Blige on the second half of the song, but I don’t see any usurpation happening. Don’t get me wrong; Blige is a fine R&B singer. But Bono is the most influential British singer of the last 30 years. When you compare the variety of Britain’s biggest pre-Bono singers (Elvis Costello, Elton John, Simon LeBon, Boy George, George Michael, Freddie Mercury, Joe Strummer, etc.) to the uniformity of the post-Bono superstars (Chris Martin, Thom Yorke, Tom Chaplin, Gary Lightbody, Fran Healy, etc.; Liam Gallagher is a notable exception), his influence becomes clear. The rest of the U2 sound can similarly be heard everywhere on what remains of rock radio. This, despite the fact that relatively few bands have covered U2’s actual songs. So much of the success of U2 is in the sound rather than the melodies.

    Regardless of the singer, the final section (“You say love is a temple…”) is unquestionably the best part of the song. I’ve read that this song had the most troubled birth on a most troubled album and was almost junked entirely until this finale was concocted to rescue the whole. If so, that’s one more reason to consider it one of the band’s finest moments, worth sharing with Blige or other worthies.

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